Character Analysis in Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre: The protagonist and eponymous character, Jane Eyre, narrates the story, and it is through her eyes that we understand the other characters. As was typical with Victorian novels, there are dozens of periphery characters but only a few central figures, all of whom are tied together by Edward Fairfax Rochester.
Mr. Rochester: Referred to primarily as Mr. Rochester, he is the novel’s unconventional hero, in the Byronic mold, and classic literature’s original tall, dark, and brooding love interest. He’s a mysterious figure, and as the novel progresses more of the secrets of his past are revealed. Themes of mental illness persist throughout the text, and the portrayal of mentally-ill characters highlights the stigma associated with mental disorders during this time.
Character Analysis Examples in Jane Eyre:
"“You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mamma says; you have no money;..." See in text (Chapter I)
Jane, an orphan, is entirely dependent on her Aunt Reed; otherwise, she would probably live in a poor house. Jane's cousins (especially John) relish every opportunity to abuse her, and her helplessness is frequently and cruelly emphasized.
"you are like a slave-driver..." See in text (Chapter I)
Notice how, from a young age, Jane is attuned to differences in social class and the hierarchies present in her own home. John ridicules her about her lower social status, and Jane’s comparison stresses the corruption of the upper and ruling classes. Jane’s awareness of her status in society is significant as it influences how she conducts herself in different situations.
"rebel slave..." See in text (Chapter II)
Brontë references a scene from the previous chapter where Jane compared John to a “slave driver.” Referring to herself as a “rebel slave,” Jane simultaneously acknowledges and defies her lower social position. Jane’s perseverance and strength in overcoming obstacles are defining aspects of her character.
"I should not like to belong to poor people..." See in text (Chapter III)
Notice how, as a child, Jane rejects a lower, working-class lifestyle, thinking it is shameful to be impoverished. As the novel progresses and Jane interacts with the moral and immoral from all social classes, she will not be so quick to judge others based on their social standing.
"Gulliver a most desolate wanderer..." See in text (Chapter III)
Jane is fascinated with both Gulliver's Travels and The History of British Birds. Throughout the novel, Jane works to escape from oppressive situations. Her fondness for these books that deal with far-off places is indicative of her desire for freedom.
"You are deceitful!”..." See in text (Chapter IV)
Jane demonstrates her characteristic inner strength here, especially her bluntness and refusal to tolerate hypocrisy. Mrs. Reed has decided to banish Jane because of "wickedness," which she believes can be cured in the unforgiving, harsh environment of a boarding school (Lowood, specifically). Jane, however, refuses to ignore her aunt's hypocrisy any further; she exposes Mrs. Reed's abusiveness and insists that she is "deceitful" for accusing Jane of wickedness.
"here is a book entitled the ‘Child's Guide’; ..." See in text (Chapter IV)
Brontë alludes to the inspiration behind the character of Mr. Brocklehurst, Rev. William Carus Wilson, the founder of a school she attended. Wilson published a magazine called “The Children’s Friend,” which contained extremely religious, grim material.
"so great a girl..." See in text (Chapter V)
This character, later introduced as Helen Burns, becomes a highly influential figure in Jane’s life. While many characters claim to be devout, she represents a truly good Christian, one who doesn’t simply preach doctrine but actually lives it. Helen, who refuses to hate others and turns the other cheek, teaches the hotheaded and vengeful Jane how to forgive. In her adult years, Jane lives by Helen’s example and keeps an open mind about others.
"Felix..." See in text (Chapter VI)
In the Bible, Felix was the Roman governor of Judea who delayed the Apostle Paul’s trial for two years. Although Jane is knowledgeable enough about the Bible’s teachings to refer to them, she is hesitant to completely accept its teachings. She is still wary of religion, and much of the novel is about her search for what it truly means to be a good Christian.
"aspect of an angel..." See in text (Chapter VII)
Helen has been characterized as the ideal Christian, but it is not until this point that her physical appearance matches her internal piety. Notice how she has developed into a Christ-like figure, as who she represents will be relevant to her relationship with Jane later in the novel.
"Rubicon..." See in text (Chapter VII)
Julius Caesar famously crossed the Rubicon (a river), initiating a civil war. Passing the Rubicon is understood as passing the point of no return. Up to this point, Jane has been hesitant to commit to her situation or her beliefs, as shown by her fascination with birds and her identification with Felix. Her confrontation with Brocklehurst is imminent, and the idea of a fixed event that she cannot turn back or escape from terrifies her.
"outside of the cup..." See in text (Chapter VII)
This phrase is a biblical allusion to the book of Matthew 23:25, which comments on Brocklehurst’s hypocrisy. He may appear to be a good Christian on the “outside” and preach about piety, but he only uses religion as it benefits him. The tone of the phrase that follows—“further beyond his interference”—is one of pity, as if Brocklehurst will never be able to understand what living religiously is like, that he’ll never reach the “inside” of the cup.
"nectar and ambrosia..." See in text (Chapter VIII)
This is an allusion to Greek mythology. The goddess Hebe served nectar as wine for the gods and ambrosia was their food. Jane’s comparison of their small morsel of cake to food for the gods shows both how hungry the children are, but it also shows how appreciative Jane is of a simple act of kindness; Jane isn’t greedy or demanding.
"A new servitude..." See in text (Chapter X)
Jane, who has lived at Lowood for eight years, no longer has financial support from Mrs. Reed. Her favorite teacher, Miss Temple, has left the school, so Jane sees little reason to stay. She must find work ("a new servitude") because she has no inheritance, but there were few respectable professions for women in 19th-century England.
"He looked quite a gentleman..." See in text (Chapter X)
Notice how Bessie describes Jane’s uncle as a somewhat upper-class “gentleman.” It is unclear if he is indeed upper class, which complicates Jane’s own status. This ambiguity will be significant to Jane’s interactions with people who are clearly upper class later in the novel.
"Those who want situations advertise..." See in text (Chapter X)
It should be noted that working, and even advertising in the paper, was only considered fit for lower-class women. Jane seeking work suggests that she considers herself a working-class woman despite her affluent childhood and education.
"While I paced softly on, the last sound I expected to hear in so still a region, a laugh, struck my ear...." See in text (Chapter XI)
Pacing is a common motif throughout Jane Eyre. Both Jane and Bertha are similar in their movements, specifically how they pace to and fro. This is just one of many examples of how Brontë draws parallels between the virginal protagonist, Jane, and her double, Bertha.
"fairy place..." See in text (Chapter XI)
Throughout her childhood, Jane has relied on books to help her escape from her own life and live vicariously through fictional characters. Because Thornfield appears so grand and new, Jane associates it with fiction because she has not experienced much of life except through books.
"offered up thanks..." See in text (Chapter XI)
The fact that Jane has never exhibited any genuine interest in religion makes this an important element of the scene, marking a significant shift in her belief system. She is not attributing her lifestyle change to her own autonomous actions, but rather to God, whom she has never regarded as helpful before.
"treatment of governesses..." See in text (Chapter XI)
Since Jane works for a living, many would consider her to be lower class. She expects to be treated badly because her view of herself is influenced by what she perceives others may think of her. Jane will frequently adjust her actions according to the social class she was hired into.
"It is thoughtless to condemn them or laugh at them if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex...." See in text (Chapter XII)
Jane directly addresses society's unenlightened views on female accomplishments and education. Respectable women were discouraged from learning (beyond learning how to copy pictures, embroider, play the piano, sing, and dance) and working. When Jane refers to action, she means mental activity as well as the activity inherent in pursuing a profession (like being a governess).
"you may help me a little yourself, if you will be so kind..." See in text (Chapter XII)
In this scene, Jane does not express the strict opinions she had about gender roles. The man’s injury helps him and Jane recognize each other as equals. It also establishes a relationship between them wherein the man depends on Jane.
"and again my raiment underwent scrutiny..." See in text (Chapter XII)
"Raiment" is an archaic term that refers to clothing. Jane is underdressed for her occupation, and this sort of discrepancy between Jane’s appearance and her identity occurs throughout the novel. Jane’s small stature and plain dress often lead others to misjudge her.
"sitting still in a “too easy chair”..." See in text (Chapter XII)
This is a quote from Alexander Pope’s poem, “Dunicaid”. Recall how Jane often dreams of escape and how she detests being idle. The rush of excitement Jane gets from helping the stranger leaves her desiring more from her dull life at Thornfield.
"Where did you see Latmos?..." See in text (Chapter XIII)
Latmos (Latmus) is a mountain in modern-day Turkey, with significance in Greek mythology as the resting place of Endymion. Jane is the perpetual dreamer, always wanting to be in any location but her current one. Her drawings are a, perhaps subconscious, projection of this desire.
"elfish..." See in text (Chapter XIII)
Note how Rochester uses more fairy-tale imagery to describe Jane’s drawings. Jane is a talented artist, and the subjects of her drawings are rather dark and complicated. This contrasts with Jane’s unassuming appearance. She continues to reveal surprising qualities or talents as the novel progresses.
"one of your rings..." See in text (Chapter XIII)
This refers to the rings made by witches or fairies when they cast spells or charms. Rochester speaks to Jane as if she is some mythical being from a fairy tale, and he does not immediately understand her; she is something of an enigma.
"Sphinx..." See in text (Chapter XIV)
The Sphinx is a mythological beast known for killing anyone who cannot answer its riddle. Rochester’s simile suggests that he has an inflated ego and thinks very highly of himself. There is some discrepancy, though, between how Rochester regards himself and what Jane thinks of him—and she lets him know. Jane feels she can be more honest with him than she has with others in the past.
"paid subordinate..." See in text (Chapter XIV)
Jane may be Rochester’s employee, but he perceives Jane to be intellectually equal to him. Jane and Rochester have many conversations, similar to this one, where they challenge each other’s wit. Their mutual respect is an important foundation for their relationship, as it will allow them to look past their class and gender differences.
"condescension..." See in text (Chapter XIV)
Notice how Rochester interacts with Jane. He has an air of superiority and seemingly goes out of his way to patronize her. Jane notes his arrogance, but refrains from revealing what she thinks. After her experiences with Mrs. Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst, Jane has learned to hold her tongue so as not to be further punished. Jane’s hesitancy to speak her mind will later lead to miscommunication.
"owing you so immense a debt..." See in text (Chapter XV)
This is the second incidence of Jane helping Rochester. Much of their relationship is built on Rochester’s reliance on Jane; her gender and social status do not inhibit her from being a figure Rochester can depend on. Notice, however, how Jane does not feel any need for reparations. She is simply concerned with doing what is right and does not ask for recognition, a virtue she learned from Helen Burns.
"Apollo Belvidere..." See in text (Chapter XV)
“Apollo Belvidere” is a classical Greek statue sculpted from marble that epitomized the ideals of aesthetic perfection. Note how Rochester has been described in the story thus far: He is not particularly handsome according to society’s standards of beauty, but Jane is willing to look past his rough exterior. For this reason, many critics compare Jane Eyre to "Beauty and the Beast," adding another fairy tale element to the story.
"ignis-fatuus-like..." See in text (Chapter XVI)
This Latin phrase roughly translates to “will-o’-the-wisp,” referring to something that is deceptive or deluding. Jane compares it to loving Rochester, who is outside of her social class and her employer. Victorian societal norms would not deem them a good marital match, so she believes loving him would only be a waste of time. She cannot imagine marrying Rochester, so she tries to remain rational, renouncing her true feelings.
"the parson in the pip..." See in text (Chapter XVII)
This phrase has many possible interpretations. It may simply be nonsense invented when the Ingrams were children; however, an archaic meaning for “pip” is “ill humored,” which could also be a possibility based on their opinion of Mr. Vining. “Pip” also suggests something insignificant or small. Whatever the meaning, it shows the Ingrams’ lack of respect for those from lower social classes.
"I am a judge of physiognomy..." See in text (Chapter XVII)
Notice how Blanche uses physiognomy as justification for her class snobbery. Jane does not have any sinister motives like Blanche, but Jane is just more attuned to matters of appearance after being overlooked throughout her life.
"He is not to them what he is to me..." See in text (Chapter XVII)
This sentence structure is similar to a sentence at the beginning of the chapter: “He is not of your order.” Jane is beginning to change her mind about her relationship with Rochester, entertaining the idea of becoming romantically involved with him despite their class differences. She feels she is more appreciative of his intellect than those of his own social class.
"“a very pleasant refuge in time of trouble.”..." See in text (Chapter XVII)
This is an allusion to Psalms 46:1, which says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” This heightens the already religious connotation of “sanctum,” and reinforces Jane’s Christian background. Jane also suggests that the party is troubling to her, that she must escape from it, which speaks to her more introverted nature.
"Bridewell..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
Bridewell was formerly a prison in London as well as a slang term for any police station or prison. This scene may suggest that Rochester feels imprisoned by some dark secrets he may be harboring.
"pantomime of a marriage..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
Jane’s choice of words here reveals what she thinks about Rochester and Blanche Ingram’s relationship. “[P]antomime” works as a sort of double entendre. The party is playing charades, but she also believes that their good relationship is only a performance, mere pretend. They only have give the appearance of being a good couple because of their social standing when it is really Jane who would be a better match for Rochester.
"I shall try to forgive you; but it was not right...." See in text (Chapter XIX)
By disguising himself, Rochester hoped to eliminate the class and gender distinctions between him and Jane. It’s been established, however, that Jane does not take kindly to being deceived. Jane did not need to be tricked into seeing Rochester and her as equals because she already believes they are despite their differences.
"the play is played out..." See in text (Chapter XIX)
This is most likely a reference to Henry IV, in which Falstaff says, “Play out the play”. It is somewhat unusual that a woman who tells fortunes would also be riffing on Shakespeare--perhaps this woman is not all that she claims to be.
"Carthage..." See in text (Chapter XX)
Carthage is an ancient city located along Africa’s northern shore, now the capital of modern day Tunisia. Jane assumes Rochester is talking about Blanche Ingram, but note how his description only vaguely resembles Blanche. Blanche has an “olive complexion” and “dark features”, but she definitely doesn’t look to be of African descent, making Rochester’s statement suspicious.
"ever shifting kaleidoscope of imagination..." See in text (Chapter XXI)
Jane Eyre is often described as a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story. The protagonist’s psychological and moral growth is a defining characteristic of this literary genre. Jane is a model Bildungsroman character as she learns and matures over the course of the novel, “ever shifting” and never at rest.
"Queen Boadicea..." See in text (Chapter XXII)
Queen Boadicea was the queen of a British Celtic tribe that led an uprising against the Roman Empire. Interest in her was revived in England’s Victorian Era as Queen Victoria was seen as her namesake (their names share the same meaning). This allusion sets up Rochester’s future wife as a strong-willed and rebellious character; traits which aren’t apparent in his supposed wife-to-be, Blanche Ingram.
"ignis fatuus..." See in text (Chapter XXII)
Brontë repeats words and phrases to link characters. In Chapter XVI, Jane described her love for Rochester as “ignis fatuus-like,” as she believed the possibility of marrying him was only an illusion. Here, Rochester compares Jane to an ignis fatuus, assuring her that he would pursue the ephemeral substance despite the possibility of not obtaining it. Rochester uses the term in a different context than Jane, making him somewhat of a foil for her. She is much more practical about the prospects of their relationship than he is.
"something like passion..." See in text (Chapter XXIII)
Notice how Jane prefaces “passion” with “something like,” revealing her fear of making a concrete statement about any feelings she has concerning Rochester. Up until this point, she has been very restrained in her interactions with Rochester, minding proper social protocol and carefully choosing when to let on how she truly feels. This is one of the few times in the novel when Jane is more open about her feelings with other characters, not just the reader.
"put my old bachelor's neck into the sacred noose..." See in text (Chapter XXIII)
This is a funny little quip from Rochester, but notice how the imagery is somewhat macabre. Rochester pairs a symbol of restraint and death with marriage. His reluctance to get married would not be unusual if he wasn’t so morbid about it, making him seem oddly suspicious.
"The Eastern allusion bit me again..." See in text (Chapter XXIV)
This chapter is full of allusions to the Middle East, and Jane’s distaste for them suggests a very imperial mindset. It was a common belief at the time that those in the British Empire were far superior to those who weren’t, and Jane is a product of her times. The British assumed a paternalistic stance in relation to their colonies and trade partners, believing themselves to be good moral and intellectual influences. Jane doesn’t like Rochester’s allusions because they compare their relationship to people she believes are beneath her.
"King Ahasuerus..." See in text (Chapter XXIV)
The Persian King Ahasuerus is a figure from the Hebrew Bible who is often identified as Xerxes I. He offered his Jewish wife, Esther, half of his kingdom, but she was only asked that her people be spared from Haman, a vizier plotting to kill all Persian Jews. By comparing Rochester to King Ahasuerus, Jane assumes the role of Esther. She is not interested in Rochester for his material wealth, but his good nature, his morality.
"‘gild refined gold.’..." See in text (Chapter XXIV)
This is a quote from Shakespeare’s King John. It’s often misquoted as “gild the lily,” which has become an idiom that refers to an unnecessary attempt to improve something that does not need improvement. Rochester professes he loves Jane for who she is and does not believe there is any way to improve her. He does not believe outward appearances, however beautiful and gilded, are indicative of one’s true nature.
"when we have been married a year and a day..." See in text (Chapter XXV)
The “year and a day” rule is commonly associated with the pagan custom of “handfasting.” It is like a trial marriage where couples would enter a union for a year and a day. After that period, they could decide to split up or enter a more permanent marriage. Rochester referring to a non-Christian ritual is suspicious and matches the already sinister and mysterious tone of the paragraph. Whoever or whatever he is hiding in the attic is unholy or otherwise malevolent, contrasting against Jane’s Christian values.
"she would not be born till to-morrow..." See in text (Chapter XXV)
Jane's description of marriage differs from Rochester's. In Chapter XXIII, he called marriage the “sacred noose,” an ending to life. Here, Jane indicates that she views her marriage as a type of renaissance, a beginning of a new life as a new person. In addition, Jane's view also suggests her fear of losing her sense of identity through marriage. Even though she is excited to begin this new part of her life, she fears she will become a typical Victorian wife and lose her independence.
"fell on all the first-born in the land of Egypt..." See in text (Chapter XXVI)
This is an allusion to the Plagues of Egypt in Exodus where the God of Israel inflicted calamities upon Egypt to convince the pharaoh to release the enslaved Israelites. This story is told to support God’s absolute power, and Jane’s reference indicates that she feels all hope is lost, that there is no fighting the powers working against her happy marriage with Rochester.
"the germs of insanity..." See in text (Chapter XXVII)
Scholars speculate that Bertha Mason may have contracted syphilis, which characterizes her as sexually promiscuous. Black women, including Creole women, have long been stereotyped as being either hyper-sexual or otherwise sexually deviant, and Jane Eyre perpetuates this. If Bertha does have syphilis, it would go against the religious and extremely conservative Victorian society. Rochester’s own behavior is also brought into question, and he is just as much at fault as she.
"which passeth all understanding..." See in text (Chapter XXX)
Jane references something that is beyond the physical world again, but the tone is not as dark here. She has access to a “peace” that transcends human understanding,but does not seek to explain it the way St. John does. As she has continually shown, Jane is not caught up in arbitrary details, but she is focused on the greater effects and the bigger picture.
"stern allusions to Calvinistic doctrines..." See in text (Chapter XXX)
Calvinism is a stricter form of Protestantism than Jane’s Evangelicalism because it emphasizes the word of God above all else. Jane is lax about her religious beliefs, merely seeking to live a good life rather than follow specific principles. Though they can bond over religion, the differences in how devout Jane and St. John are have the potential to cause friction between them.
"Peri..." See in text (Chapter XXXI)
A peri is a Persian mythological creature, similar to a fairy and known for its beauty. Peris can either be benevolent or agents of evil. Rochester often referred to Jane as a sort of sprite or fairy, but Rosamond and Jane are not necessarily similar characters. Jane calls Rosamond a “peri” because of its potential for evil, which is directly linked to Rosamond’s beauty that Jane had just described in great detail.
"the 5th of November..." See in text (Chapter XXXII)
The 5th of November is known as Guy Fawkes Day. In Chapter 3, one of the maids at Gateshead likened Jane to an “infantine Guy Fawkes” for her rebellious behavior. As this Bildungsroman nears its end, this serves as a small reminder of Jane’s troubled beginnings and how much she’s grown over the course of the novel. Once hot-tempered and living in poor conditions, Jane is now more level-headed, independent, and has a space to call her own.
"all white as a glacier..." See in text (Chapter XXXIII)
Brontë develops St. John as a foil for Rochester. Jane describes Rochester as having a “dark face” with a “heavy brow,” and he is often described as being full of “passion.” His brooding nature exudes a dark warmth that Jane is drawn to. St. John, on the other hand, is icy and “cool” like a “glacier.” Also note how Jane often described Rochester as being ugly, and just as often comments on St. John’s handsomeness. The contrast between them allows Rochester to emerge as the clear choice for Jane.
"I observed careful obedience to St. John's directions..." See in text (Chapter XXXIV)
Jane views St. John as an authority figure, both because he is the male head of the household and because he is commanding, cold, and distant. However, Jane is a woman of extremes: she either "faithfully" submits to the orders of another or revolts with "volcanic vehemence"—usually after putting up with an overbearing, arrogant person (like Mrs. Reed or St. John) for some time.
"a white stone..." See in text (Chapter XXXIV)
Compare this description of St. John with Jane's earlier description of Mr. Brocklehurst as a “black pillar.” Both men represent one aspect of religion: one malevolent and the other benevolent. In addition, these men are associated with solid masses of cold stone or marble, suggesting their lack of emotion and affection. Their way of practicing religion contrasts with Jane’s, who does not follow the Bible so closely.
"I knew what fate St. John feared for me..." See in text (Chapter XXXV)
In this passage, St. John reads a specific passage of the Bible to guilt Jane into marrying him and traveling to India. St. John is similar to Brocklehurst in this way--using religion as a way to get what they want, rather than simply following it to lead a good life.
"“Which are none, sir, to me. I love you better now, when I can really be useful to you, than I did in your state of proud independence, when you disdained every part but that of the giver and protector.”..." See in text (Chapter XXXVII)
Jane, who was always Mr. Rochester's social inferior, feels comfortable marrying him now because he is dependent. His physical disability feminizes him, leveling the playing field so Jane is his equal. Female autonomy is subtly addressed, here; Jane, who has spent the entirety of the novel pursuing liberty, learns that an autonomous life is not one without obligation. Instead, freedom comes from choosing one's obligations.
"take up his cross, and follow me...." See in text (Chapter XXXVIII)
Note how in these last couple of chapters, the tone is heavily religious even within the context of the novel’s many Biblical allusions. The fire at Thornfield that gave Rochester so many injuries caused him to be reborn--like a phoenix from the ashes. He turns to religion as a sort of born-again Christian, which allows him and Jane to share a spiritual connection.